In 1996 California voters passed Proposition 215—popularly known as the Compassionate Use Act—allowing patients with a valid medical sign-off to cultivate marijuana for medical use. Eighteen years later, medical marijuana dispensaries have exploded in number across the state.
The vague statutes created by Prop 215 and piecemeal approach to follow-up legislation have created a headache for law enforcement professionals and local elected officials alike. Public officials across the state have found state laws associated with medical marijuana to be chaotic, conflicting and at times, unworkable.
Local government officials are hoping to find increased clarification on these issues in SB 1262, a bill proposed by Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).
The bill is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) and the League of California Cities. A total of nine law enforcement groups have pledged their support as well as an organization that represents nearly five thousand inner-city churches.
According to the League’s website, “Senate Bill 1262 will provide what we have lacked in California since the voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996: a responsible, health-based regulatory scheme that upholds local control, squarely addresses public safety concerns, and includes important health and safety requirements.”
Specifically, SB 1262 would require dispensary licensing from the State Department of Public Health and would make these licenses subject to the restrictions of local jurisdictions in an effort to bolster local control. The State Department of Public Health would further establish quality assurance standards and testing in order to ensure the safety of cannabis-related products. Enforcement of these statutes would be implemented by county health departments.
However, law enforcement is quick to point out that SB 1262 is not an endorsement of recreational pot use.
“This legislation is not an endorsement of the legalization of recreational marijuana. Rather, SB 1262 provides a much needed and long overdue framework to effectively implement Prop. 215,” Chief Landy Black of Davis said to The Aggie.
In 2013, there were a number of proposed bills aimed at fine-tuning the regulation of medical marijuana. Notably, AB 604 (Ammiano, Steinberg) sought clearer rules for the cultivation and use of cannabis for medical purposes.
The last-minute effort to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session was stymied by opposition from local government and law enforcement, including from the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA).
“Much of the language [of Ammiano’s bill] was cosmetic and didn’t have teeth behind it,” remarked Lauren Michaels, policy analyst for the CPCA. “SB 1262 completely protects local control and enforcement. This is one of the League of California Cities’ biggest priorities and it is a priority for law enforcement as well.”
Another issue that SB 1262 addresses is quality control. According to Michaels, “Many medical marijuana patients do not know the contents of their edibles.”
Michaels admitted that some dispensaries take it upon themselves to partner with a testing lab in order to ensure the contents of their edibles. However, she points out that dispensaries who take such precautions are few and far between. Some testing centers that have been in contact with the CPCA has reported some products as containing strands of E. coli or covered in DDT.
SB 1262 faces opposition from California NORML, an organization dedicated to the reform of the state’s marijuana laws.
“While we strongly oppose SB 1262’s provisions restricting physician recommendations, we regard the remaining portions of the bill as a constructive, practical step towards legal regulation, in accordance with Prop 215’s mandate for a system of ‘safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need,’” remarked Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer.
Law enforcement has come a long way on the issue, acknowledged by Grieringer’s statement that the bill amounts to a “constructive, practical step” toward fair and legal enforcement. Previously the CPCA stood in ardent opposition to any bill relaxing the regulations on marijuana.
Law enforcement representatives hope this change of heart will be seen as a proactive approach and signify that they are willing to come to the table to craft effective policy aimed at alleviating confusions and contradictions in current state law.
“We are committed to providing safe access as it is a legitimate health issue, but medical marijuana is a billion dollar industry that requires looking at it from a medical- and safety-based angle,” remarked Chula Vista Chief David Bejarano, former San Diego Police Chief and current 1st Vice President of the CPCA. “We simply want to employ a policy that is reasonable, provides oversight and protects everyone from the patient to the grower to our neighborhoods.”
SB 1262 is up for consideration in the State Senate’s Business and Professions Committee on Monday. If passed, the bill will be up for a vote in the Senate Health Committee and then the Senate Floor before heading to the Assembly.
Read the bill in its entirety here.